The Executive Director, National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Faisal Shuaib, has expressed optimism that Nigeria will not suffer a setback in the success recorded on wild polio eradication in the country.
He said though the country has been experiencing another type of polio known as the ‘vaccine derived polio’, this will not stop the country from being certified free.
He said the certification will be given to the country “after it succeeds in eradicating all forms of wild polio in the country”.
Mr Shuaib speaking at the 4th Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme (NFELTP) Annual Scientific Conference in Abuja on Tuesday said the country has been successful in halting polio.
This, he said, was done by intensifying efforts to reach the hard to reach areas in insurgency ravaged Borno State.
The NCDC/NFELTP conference is an avenue where field epidemiologists gather to assess the impact of the profession on public health and outbreak response in Nigeria and globally.
It creates an avenue where evidence from the field are provided for decision making to drive precise public health action.
Field epidemiologists are professionals who work at the forefront of disease surveillance, response and control.
The theme of the conference is ‘Applied Epidemiology: providing evidence for public health action’.
Delivering the keynote address, Mr Shuaib spoke about Nigeria’s journey towards ending polio in Nigeria.
He said Nigeria was able to record three years of absence of wild polio because of the tireless efforts of field epidemiologists in the country.
He said the field epidemiologists, with the help of Nigerian soldiers “have been able to get as many missed children in Borno vaccinated”.
Nigeria is one of the three countries aside Pakistan and Afghanistan yet to be certified polio free globally.
As at 2016, Nigeria was at the verge of becoming polio free after about two years of no record of wild polio detected until a case was reported in Borno.
This created a setback for the country as the country had to embark on rigorous polio immunisation campaign.
Mr Shuaib said Nigeria would not have been able to record the feat it made in the interruption of the disease without the assistance of field epidemiologists.
“One of the reasons why Nigeria was successful in the polio and Ebola disease intervention in 2014, is due to the epidemiologists on ground.”
Mr Shuaib said if the country can continue with same record, by March 2020, Nigeria might become one of the countries “who had successfully interrupted transmission of wild polio”.
Vaccine derived polio
He, however, expressed displeasure that the country is recording cases of vaccine derived polio.
He said the polio virus (CvDpv2) outbreak has been largely due to poor routine immunisation and environmental sanitation.
As at January to August, 66 cases of CvDpv2 had been reported in 11 states.
Mr Shuaib said the report of the vaccine derived polio virus is not a new development as Nigeria has been experiencing it since 2008.
He said this was as a result of “non vaccine compliance, weak routine immunisation coverage, and lack of political commitment in the release of counterpart funding among others”.
“We are already intensifying routine immunisation and the poor 18 immunisation states are beginning to improve. Despite challenges such as insecurity, funding and depletion of global vaccine stockpile, we are optimistic that Nigeria will be declared wild polio free.
“We are engaging all efforts and that is why we are close to being certified polio free. I have no iota of doubt that by next few years we will see transformation in the health sector,” he said.
Criteria for polio certification
Some of the criteria Nigeria needs to meet before being certified polio free includes “recording no wild polio case for at least three consecutive years, with high quality and sensitive AFP surveillance, and high vaccination coverage of at least 90 per cent.”
The country must also be ready to respond to polio importation and containment of all activities of wild polio virus and potential infectious materials.
In a similar vein, the DG NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said field epidemiologists are front line workers who ensure that diseases are quickly detected, responded to and contained.
Mr Ihekweazu also said the conference was necessary because “every year new knowledge is being learnt in the field and there is a need to constantly share.”